The government has expanded its bowel-cancer screening program, but take-up rates have been poor
Three more age groups will be eligible for bowel cancer screening this year, growing the number with access to screening to 2.7 million.
People aged 54, 58 and 68 have been added to the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program for 2017.
The program, which began in 2006, also includes Australians aged 50, 55, 60, 64, 70, 72 and 74. By 2020, those aged 50 to 74 will all be invited to participate in bowel cancer screening every two years.
Cancer Council Victoria urged GPs to spread the word to patients about the program. “Doing this free test at-home could save your patient’s life,” screening manager Kate Broun said.
The biggest hurdle was getting people to participate in the program in the first place, Ms Broun said. Fewer than four in 10 Victorians who were invited to do a screening test sent back a completed test kit.
GPs could help lift rates of participation by sending a letter to 49-year olds, displaying brochures, flyers and posters, and talking to patients aged 50-74 years about bowel cancer screening, the Department of Health said.
Once patients completed one foecal occult blood test, they had a high chance of completing future tests. Three out of four Victorians who participated the first time went on to do a second test.
Around 80 Australians die every week from bowel cancer, making it the second leading cause of cancer-related death after lung cancer.
“The good news is that 90% of bowel cancers can be successfully treated if found early enough,” Cancer Council Victoria said.
Patients that participate in screening have a 15% reduced risk of dying from bowel cancer.